On Wednesday, Colombian officials conceded a key topic of negotiation in ongoing peace talks with the nation’s largest Marxist-Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization, Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). They have agreed to allow political participation and eventual integration of FARC into Colombia’s democratic processes.
The issue of future political participation has been one of the most important items on the agenda for the peace talks, which moved to Havana, Cuba, after beginning in Oslo, Norway, in 2012. Additional issues yet to be tackled include drug trafficking, compensation for victims of the 50-year conflict, and disarmament.
Norway and Cuba are acting as guarantors in the peace talks, and Norweigian diplomat Dag Mylander clarified that the agreement “includes guarantees for the political opposition, measures to promote citizen participation, and it contemplates revising the Colombian electoral system after a final peace agreement is signed.”
Critics of the peace talks accuse President Juan Manuel Santos’s administration (2010-) of conceding too much to FARC while getting too little in return for important concessions. His administration has also received criticism for allowing Marxist-leaning foreign governmentstoo great a role in a process which many see as a private, internal issue for Colombia to take care of.
Images showing FARC leaders enjoying cigars on a boat in Cuba have only added fuel to the fire in this regard, leading many to question FARC’s intentions in the negotiations. The peace process gives both parties a break from fighting, but it particularly gives FARC an international audience for their ideology and demands, due to international coverage of the talks.
FARC is responsible for killing an estimated 496 civilians in 2000 alone, and estimates of total deaths on both sides of the 50-year conflict range from 50,000 to 200,000. Founded in 1964, a range of nations have since designated FARC as a terrorist organization — rather than a revolutionary or noble force, as they seek to brand themselves — including Chile, Peru, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, as well as the European Union.
Santos’s predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, has opposed the peace talks. He has also used his political clout to support Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who is preparing to run for president against Santos. Uribe spent much of his tenure (2002–2010) attempting to defeat Colombia’s militant groups including the FARC and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN).
While there is optimism about potential progress in the current peace talks in Cuba, many who have followed Colombia’s past negotiations with the group have reason for concern. Peace talks during the administration of Andrés Pastrana Arango in 1999 were leading towards a demilitarized safe haven the size of Switzerland for both FARC and the communist guerrilla group, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). The talks subsequently broke off, however, and critics argue that the failure left both guerrilla groups stronger than before the negotiations.
After the announcement, Colombia’s president Santos took to Twitter to express that he remains hopeful regarding the peace process.
“Never before have we gone so far down the road toward ending the conflict” — and he added optimistically that “the generation being born today should be the generation of Peace.”
Recently there have been rumors that President Santos may have been considering suspending the talks due to a lack of progress. Many believed that failing peace talks would negatively affect his political brand during elections in May, 2014. However, after the announcement on Wednesday, he stated that while “there has been talk of breaking or pausing the talks, we are not going to do that. We are going to continue with even more energy.”
Both parties are now on a 10-day break before returning to tackle the next item on the agenda: drug trafficking.
This article was originally published at The PanAm Post.